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A framework for examining how diet impacts tumour metabolism


The way cancer cells utilize nutrients to support their growth and proliferation is determined by cancer cell-intrinsic and cancer cell-extrinsic factors, including interactions with the environment. These interactions can define therapeutic vulnerabilities and impact the effectiveness of cancer therapy. Diet-mediated changes in whole-body metabolism and systemic nutrient availability can affect the environment that cancer cells are exposed to within tumours, and a better understanding of how diet modulates nutrient availability and utilization by cancer cells is needed. How diet impacts cancer outcomes is also of great interest to patients, yet clear evidence for how diet interacts with therapy and impacts tumour growth is lacking. Here we propose an experimental framework to probe the connections between diet and cancer metabolism. We examine how dietary factors may affect tumour growth by altering the access to and utilization of nutrients by cancer cells. Our growing understanding of how certain cancer types respond to various diets, how diet impacts cancer cell metabolism to mediate these responses and whether dietary interventions may constitute new therapeutic opportunities will begin to provide guidance on how best to use diet and nutrition to manage cancer in patients.

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Fig. 1: A proposed framework for examining how diet impacts tumour metabolism, growth and progression.
Fig. 2: Different diets can be defined by the relative contributions of different macronutrients to caloric intake.
Fig. 3: Understanding how dietary factors impact tumour metabolism may help incorporate dietary interventions into cancer therapy.


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The authors thank members of the Vander Heiden laboratory for thoughtful discussions and comments on the manuscript. E.C.L. is a Damon Runyon Fellow supported by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation (DRG-2299-17). M.G.V.H. is supported by the Emerald Foundation, the Lustgarten Foundation, SU2C, the Ludwig Center at MIT, the US National Cancer Institute, the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and a Faculty Scholars award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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Both authors contributed to the discussion of manuscript content, writing of the manuscript and reviewing or editing of the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Matthew G. Vander Heiden.

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M.G.V.H. is a consultant for and scientific advisory board member of Agios Pharmaceuticals, Aeglea Biotherapeutics and Auron Therapeutics. E.C.L. reports no competing interests.

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Lien, E.C., Vander Heiden, M.G. A framework for examining how diet impacts tumour metabolism. Nat Rev Cancer 19, 651–661 (2019).

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